Blacks Leisure grabs gold in a sporting year

Derek Pain, Stock Market Reporter of the Year, reviews the leading share price winners and the heaviest losers of 1996; Make your mind up time: The Independent offers readers a selection of shares ranging from blue chips to the more speculative

Never before has there been such a sporty touch to the yearly winners and losers share tables. Leading the top 20 is Blacks Leisure, the leisure wear retailer. Three football clubs feature in the winners' table; so does Hay & Robertson, which has a more than passing interest in the sports world.

And, as if to prove the all-round adaptability of the stock market's new breed of sporting companies, the leader of the bedraggled losers is a golfing group, Clubpartners International.

Blacks represents an amazing turnaround. Once beset by boardroom battles and seemingly going nowhere, the company still had an appalling record only a few years ago. Acquisitions had been disastrous; profits had disappeared and the dividend cut.

But, helped by the increasing hype surrounding professional football, a greater pursuit of keeping fit and the great outdoors, the company, under the sure direction of Simon Bentley, has prospered. Profits last year were below the pounds 3.7m peak achieved in 1992. Still, the record should be shattered this year with hopes growing that profits could touch pounds 7m.

The footballing hat-trick is Celtic, Caspian (Leeds Utd) and Manchester Utd. "ManU", of course, kicked off the stock market's interest in soccer skills. Before the Premiership was formed, before the great replica kit bonanza had taken off and even before BSkyB was pouring money into the top clubs, the famous Red Devils slipped relatively quietly on to the market.

Such was the lack of investor enthusiasm that the shares went to a discount to the issue price and ManU seemed destined to limp along in the market's lower divisions.

Slowly investors, other than those who also supported Manchester Utd and had held shares since the flotation, scented the huge profits which television coverage, sponsorships and replica kits were throwing at what television's football experts like to call "a funny old game". From a 52.6p low in 1992 the shares have romped to a 667.5p high; a performance not very different from Blacks Leisure.

Celtic, as part of a cash-raising exercise, arrived on the market in the summer of 1995; Caspian is, in effect, a reverse takeover. In February it was a little media group with its shares at 8.5p. Then City whizz-kid Chris Akers, who had earlier masterminded the market debut of Freepages through a reverse deal, arrived and seemed immediately to hunt for football status. Caspian was linked with a number of leading clubs eventually capturing Leeds after clashing with at least one of the incumbent directors.

Hay & Robertson, on the undercard of the winners' table at number 20, is another struggler which has scored from the leisure wear craze. It moved into profits last year and last month announced a marketing deal with high-profile Ruud Gullit, Chelsea's manager.

To counter arguments the market has gone soccer crazy the rest of the winners have little to do with sport. And many of them are small groups where modest investment interest can produce significant price movements. The losers, too, tend to inhabit the lower reaches of the market.

Runner-up Jarvis is a construction group which has soared on its acquisition of one of the British Rail maintenance operations. Occasional takeover talk has also helped.

BBB Design and Abacus Recruitment are good examples of the power of the tiddler when it comes to drawing up yearly share performance tables.

Both have modest share capitals and low capitalisations. BBB is valued at pounds 6.4m and Abacus at pounds 4.7m. The markets in their shares is obviously exceedingly tight. BBB is a computer company which moved back into profits last year. Chairman Philip O'Donnell has a controlling interest and three other shareholders account for near-19 per cent of the capital.

Cairn Energy and British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate are at the forefront of the strength of the oil sector and Surrey Free Inns leads the inform managed pub contingent.

Clubpartners, heading the motley crew of losers, has bunkered itself with a sad run of losses. Yet hope springs eternal at its own 19th hole. The shares, it is true, have collapsed 28.5p over the year to stand at 2.5p. Yet they should be even lower. The company warned on several occasions it was in negotiations which could lead to an offer well below the market price. Eventually it said the bid would come in the "region of 1p". So unless there are unexpected developments the shares are hugely overvalued - another of the market's little mysteries.

Memory Corporation is a spectacular faller. The repairer of defective computer chips slumped 363.5p to 60p last year. In the previous year it touched 555p.

Top 20 winners in 1996

1996 Year's %

closing price Gain

Blacks Leisure 386.5p 680

Jarvis 142.5p 506

Celtic pounds 385 488

BBB Design 77.5p 417

Abacus Rec 84.5p 369

Ferrum 7p 367

Caspian 45p 338

Emerald En 4p 300

Cairn En 416p 268

Roxspur 8p 256

Goodwin 130p 242

Man Utd 667.5p 241

Tex 133.5p 226

British Borneo 810p 224

TDS Circuits 21p 223

Surrey Free Inns 416p 220

Fairbriar 18.5p 208

DBS 487.5p 205

Hay & Robertson 132.5p 201

Pan Andean Res 51.5p 190

Bottom 20 losers in 1996

1996 Year's %

clsoing price fall

Clubpartners 2.5p 91.9

NSM (sus) 8p 89

Lionheart 7.75p 89

Memory Corp 60p 86

Haemocell 4p 84

Omnimedia 11.5p 82

Jacques Vert 32.5p 82

Yorkshire Fd 14.5p 82

Hansom 8p 80

Electrophoretics 38.5p 79

Applied Dis 40p 79

Telspec 177.5p 78

Creightons Nat 27.5p 78

Colleagues 57.5p 78

FII 100p 77

Alpha Omikorn 5p 74

Forward Tech 25p 72

First Call 7.75p 69

Campbell & Arm 5.25p 69

Tring 14.5p 66

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